Saturday, August 17, 2013

Life in the snow globe

32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Mt 10:32-38).
This text operates at several levels:
i) There's the metaphor of martyrdom. Figurative self-martyrdom. Dying to self, as a vivid metaphor for self-denial. 
This isn't self-denial in a masochistic sense. This isn't self-denial in the Buddhist sense of altruistic detachment, whereby you can be more compassionate towards everyone because you're less attached to friends and relatives. And this isn't self-denial in the Catholic sense of performing supererogatory works to accrue surplus congruent merit. 
Rather, this is dying to self in the sense of living for another. And not just any other–but living for Jesus. You put your life at his disposal.
ii) This also means you must be prepared to face emotional and financial deprivation for the faith. Be disowned by your friends and relatives. Lose your job. Have your business boycotted.
iii) Finally, it means you must be prepared to die for your faith. Literal martyrdom.
iv) Apropos (iii), Christians often debate the differences between the old covenant and the new covenant. Some Christian traditions stress more continuity while others stress more discontinuity. But here's a neglected difference between the old and new covenants. 
Because ancient Israel was a theocratic state, there was less occasion to be martyred for your faith. Although that was still a possibility, when a syncretistic king or queen was on the throne, that was in spite of how the state was constituted under the old covenant. Under the old covenant, the state was explicitly constituted to protect true believers.
In the Roman Empire, by contrast, both the Jewish establishment and the imperial establishment were hostile to the Christian faith. This sometimes put Christians in a position where they had a duty to choose death over life. To choose martyrdom over self-preservation.
For many people, this world is their snow globe. They cling to life for dear life, because they think this life is all there is. You've only got one life to live, so make the most of it. There's nothing on the other side. No heaven. No world to come. Just the here-and-now. Life in the snow globe. 
They will survive by any means necessary. Commit murder. Practice cannibalism. Harvest someone's organs. Whatever it takes to live another day.  
They pass the time with trivia. Ephemeral diversions. Overindulgence. Life as a game show.
Christianity has a radically different perspective. Even life in a fallen world is God's gift. But sometimes we're required to opt for death over life. The world we know is not a snow globe. There's a larger, better, greater reality. A reality external to our snow global experience. 

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